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They did the job… all wrong.
Gotham’s embattled Housing Authority failed to properly supervise thousands of lead fixes in public housing apartments — and to properly protect tenants from the toxic substance as they performed the repairs, a blistering new report from the Department of Investigation revealed Thursday.
DOI’s findings are the latest entry in the years-long catalog of scandals over toxic living conditions, mismanagement and fraud at the public housing agency, which resulted in a partial federal takeover in 2019.
“The findings of this investigation involving NYCHA’s lead abatement process illustrate the profound and damaging impact of government wrongdoing and incompetence,” said DOI commissioner Margaret Garnett in a statement.
“In this case, NYCHA managers involved in the lead abatement process had a total disregard for the facts, for the law and integrity, and, most importantly, for the well-being of NYCHA residents,” she added.
Lead is so dangerous to young children that any level of exposure can be dangerous — potentially leading to learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
Because of lead’s toxicity, federal law and city regulations banned lead decades ago and place strict rules on how lead repairs are to be conducted and overseen to ensure the work is done safely.
Those include requirements that all work be overseen by supervisors who completed a training program certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and that NYCHA create a plan for each apartment to protect tenants from lead dust and other toxic particles released by the work.
But time and again, NYCHA ignored or violated those regulations, according to the report, which looked at NYCHA through 2018 and revealed that:
- The bosses at NYCHA’s lead unit made employees falsely certify at least 163 lead repairs were overseen by EPA certified supervisors between 2016 and 2018
- NYCHA used the false certifications to exempt at least 323 apartments from annual city-required lead checks
- NYCHA maintenance officials provided agency executives “clearly misleading” information about how lead repairs were being conducted and overseen;
The investigation — was conducted in partnership with the Inspector General for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the criminal investigations arm of the Environmental Protection Agency — was triggered by a complaint from a NYCHA whistleblower.
The insider revealed that at one point in the summer of 2017, the head of NYCHA’s lead unit, Ralph Iacono, ordered him to report to the office and then handed him a stack of paperwork covering roughly 60 lead-repair work orders and told him “I need your signature.”
Ironically, the whistleblower had the necessary certifications from the EPA to oversee lead work, but NYCHA never assigned him to the role, DOI reported.
That was one of two stacks of paperwork the informer told investigators he was required to fraudulently sign off on.
A second employee in NYCHA’s lead unit confirmed the scheme, telling investigators that Iacono directed him to fraudulently sign off on paperwork certifying the repairs had been properly overseen.
“I can’t sign too many of them,” the second employee recounted Iacono saying.
For years, NYCHA has been beset by mounting worries and scandals about deteriorating living conditions in the city’s public housing stock.
Then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio accused then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration in 2012 of manipulating repair stats at the Housing Authority as work orders ballooned.
Tenants sued in federal court over NYCHA’s failure to fix rampant mold infestations in developments across the city and won a settlement in 2014 that installed a court-ordered monitor to ensure repairs were finally completed.
But the agency’s troubles exploded into view after a string of newspaper stories revealed the growing lead-poisoning crisis in public housing.
Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara launched an investigation in 2016.
In 2017, DOI published its first bombshell report that revealed NYCHA stopped conducting required annual checks of apartments for lead in 2013 but continued to certify to its federal regulators the checks were completed.
That next year, the feds and DOI raided a NYCHA warehouse in Long Island City where lead records were stored.
Eventually, city officials admitted in August 2018 that 1,160 children who live in NYCHA-run apartments had tested positive for lead poisoning since 2012.
Throughout much of the crisis, City Hall and NYCHA officials claimed that lead was not commonly used in public housing and that, when it was found, it was removed — which were undercut by two year-long Post investigations.
The paper revealed in 2019 that NYCHA frequently used a little-known bureaucratic appeals process to cancel or reduce orders from the Health Department to remove lead from apartments where a poisoned child lived — leaving kids in toxic units.
Additional records obtained through a Freedom of Information lawsuit revealed that the Health Department inspectors tagged at least one apartment in more than a quarter of NYCHA’s then-326 developments with a lead cleanup order, showing that lead usage was far more widespread than previously admitted.
NYCHA says Iacono got a 30-day suspension without pay, and it is seeking his termination.
“As stated by the Inspector General, NYCHA cooperated with this investigation and has made significant systemic changes to its lead abatement program,” said NYCHA spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio.
“NYCHA continues to work with the Federal Monitor to establish the highest standards for its policies and programs, not only to fulfill the terms of the 2019 HUD Agreement and bring the Authority into compliance but also to rebuild a culture of employee service and accountability; regain resident, employee, and public trust; and ensure this never happens again.”
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